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Ghost

Hypnotic Underworld
Drag City

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For a band that's been around since 1988, it's a bit of a shame that we haven't heard more about Ghost, a Krautrock-influenced psychedelic collective from Tokyo that seems to exist underneath a well-deserved cloak of Eastern mystery.

 

In Japan, for instance, Ghost is well known for performing at improbable locales: the courtyard of a Buddhist temple; an empty cave; an underground metro station. And the group's lineup, like an impenetrable secret society, is ever-changing, although head guitarist Masaki Batoh has led the charge for the entire two decades.

 

Hypnotic Underworld is Ghost's sixth studio release, and it begins, in true retro-rock opera style, with an atmospheric four-song intro. With titles like "God Took a Picture of His Illness on This Ground," and "Aramaic Barbarous Dawn," it's perhaps not surprising that this mini-opus is largely comprised of obscure Japanese wind instruments, and what appears to be a full four minutes of either Takuyuki Moriya or Taishi Takizawa (who can tell?) practicing scales on the neck of an electric bass guitar. All run-of-the-mill stuff, presumably, for the flip side of, say, a Faust record, but Hypnotic Underworld really comes into its own by around the fifth track, "Hazy Paradise," which is actually a cover of a song by a Dutch psychedelic outfit named Earth and Fire.

 

But that's not to say that Ghost has no hippie-shtick of its own: The rest of Hypnotic Underworld is an absolutely beautiful mélange of minimalist Celtic harp, the dripping sounds of the tabla drum, the flute and tin whistle, and even a bit of Japanese and (heavily accented) English lyricism. And although guitars are undoubtedly powering the engine here, their high notes are executed with such precision that the finished product could have effortlessly scored a weekend-long Tokyo love-in. If they'd only picked up the guitar two decades earlier ...

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